Thursday, December 31, 2009

An End and A Beginning

Here I am at the end of 2009 with only minutes to spare if I'm going to be ready when my guests arrive to ring in 2010. Having been so sporadic in posting here lately, though, I wanted to take a few of those minutes to check in and wish y'all a festive and safe New Year's Eve, and say thank you for visiting my cyber corner of Katy. I'm hoping to be a lot more diligent in putting fingers to keyboard this coming year. Perhaps I should be thankful to the cold weather for giving me ample subject matter ... parts of my garden are barely recognizable, thanks to the blizzard of aught-nine, and it will be a very different garden in 2010 than it was in 2009. I'm more excited about that than I am distressed: as I've mentioned before, I like changing things up and reworking the scenes I've set. (I do wish I'd covered the variegated Firespike, though ... I fear it has, as Madalene Hill was wont to say, gone to its fathers.) I've already gotten into the spirit of things and moved some moss rocks to the rose bed, added compost and will get busy seeding Linaria out there tomorrow. Then there's that whole area under the pine tree to consider ... and the spot presently occupied by what's left of the Erythrina crista-galli (yeah, I didn't tell y'all about that ... just wait till you see ... but I had good reasons, really I did ... ) ...

But those are stories for another day ... so for now, I'll bid y'all a fond adieu and see you in the New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why I Garden

My friend Mary Ann over at Gardens of the Wild Wild West asked us a while back to share with her the stories of why we garden. "What makes you brave the wind, sleet, high temperatures, low temperatures, frost and frost bite to put little tiny seeds or great big trees in the ground. Why oh why? And you do it again and again. Eternal optimists, yes. But I know there is mor e to your story. Tell me what it is." I've only read one of my fellow bloggers' essays and Leslie of Growing A Garden in Davis certainly captured a good many of the reasons I garden. Like Leslie and probably most gardeners, certainly I garden for the joys and delights both the process and the results bring me. There are days when my heart is so full of emotion that I can only sit and sigh as I survey the beauty all around me.

But I garden not just because of what it gives to ME, I garden because it's an opportunity for me to give to others and to make the world a better place. I garden because I believe it's a way for me to be the change that I wish to see in the world. Even if it's insignificant in the grand scheme of things, my small surburban corner of Katy affects the lives of those who walk or drive by. Sometimes they stop to ask the name of a plant or to tell me how the garden reminds them of a special time or place in their lives. They recognize a plant that their mother or grandmother grew and for an instant, they're that beloved child or grandchild again. Young children stop to exclaim over the butterflies and to shyly ask if they may pick a flower. Even a few of the teenagers fall under the garden's spell and stop to tell me, as one young woman did, that seeing it "makes my day all bright and shiny". I garden because I know that someone's day is better for having seen the poppies in bloom or watched a Monarch butterfly nectaring amongst the coneflowers and Cosmos. I garden to remind them, and myself, that life is good.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Bedraggled December Bloom Day

I knew there would be a difference between my December 2008 Bloom Day post and what I have to show you today, but I am shocked at how tremendous that difference is. It's anything but colorful on my corner of Katy this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. The weather has been dismal and abysmal the last week or so and I haven't been able to spend much time in the garden. When I do step outside for a few minutes, I'm vividly and repeatedly reminded that Mother Nature always gets the last word. She may take a little time to get that word in ... lull you into complacency ... and then WHAM! a plant you were certain had come through the freeze unscathed shows unmistakable signs of having been scathed and scathed again. I won't say that I regret having let the gardens fend for themselves but I might actually cover a few plants the next time a freeze is predicted. In the meantime, here's a slideshow of the few blooms I actually have as of today.


Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is the creation of Carol, who blogs at May Dreams Gardens. Mosey on over and see who else is blogging about their blooms (or lack thereof).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Big Chill

So here we are one week after the Big Chill visited the greater Houston area ... and the scene on my corner of Katy is one of damage and devastation. True, it doesn't look all that bad as seen through the garden gate.

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But if you take a little walk around the garden with me, I'll show you what I mean. The Chinese Hat, Holmskioldia sanguinea, is a very sad sight. I'm following Houston Chronicle Garden Editor Kathy Huber's advice and resisting the temptation to prune it back. (OK, The Head Gardener may have nipped an inch here and there but that's resisting temptation by our standards.)

Like many of the woody perennials, the Durantas were hit hard. I've gone ahead and started pruning them back, which falls under the category of DAISNAID ... Do as I say, not as I do ... a term I borrowed from Mr. McGregor's Daughter in Chicago (read her latest DAISNAID post if you need a good laugh). I've grown these plants long enough that I have a fairly good idea of how much pruning I can get away with at this point. I also know that if it takes umbrage with my doing so and dies as a result, it can be replaced as it's a fairly easy plant to find locally. Conversely, the Holmskioldia I mentioned above is less widely available, which is why the HG and I are more or less following the rules with that one. I was going to post an individual picture of them, but I think this one is a better illustration of the freeze's effects on the Holmskioldia, the Duranta and the Blue Butterfly Bush (also the Eranthemum).

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Blue Butterfly Bush, formerly Clerodendrum ugandense and now reclassified as Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense', was seriously affected by the cold. I have two of these large bushes: I cut one of them back to about 6 inches high and the other I removed only 6 inches or so from the tops. This is one of the plants the HG suggested we experiment upon: we'll see how each of them fares and that will give us an idea of how to treat them in future winters. Clerodendrum wallichii and Clerodendrum thomsoniae 'Delectum' also suffered extensive foliar damage. It's still too soon to tell how much of it affected the stems.

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My coral woody pentas were in full and glorious bloom and it's truly painful to look at them now. They were well and truly zapped by the extended cold. These shrubs, though, are a good illustration of how damaging cold air can be: the less exposed lower portions of several Rondeletias are still green and healthy.

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I was surprised at how tender the Salvia madrensis, Forsythia Sage, were. They're not all crispy critters but some of them really did take the freeze badly. While Salvia greggii and Salvia regla only suffered a little freezer burn to the foliage, some of the Salvia miniata and Salvia blepharophylla died back to the ground. It's so interesting to see a group of these plants with only one affected by the freeze. Microclimates? Nanoclimates!

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My Big Blue Sage, Eranthemum pulchellum, was given to me by my late friend Amy and I'll admit to being a bit worried about this one. I knew it was tender but I didn't realize it's most often classified as only hardy to Zones 10b-11. There are anecdotal reports of its surviving temperatures below 30, though, so I'll cover it next time and hope for the best. (That's a banana shrub, Michelia figo, to the right of the GARDEN sign ... it shows no signs at all of having resented the cold weather.)

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I've often heard from gardeners in more northerly climates that snow is a great insulator and actually is less damaging to plants than frigid air temperatures. I saw this for myself first hand: the herbs I set out just the day before The Big Chill were covered with snow but survived unscathed and have put on new growth this past week. Even the delicate ferny foliage of the Bronze Fennel seems unaffected!

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Now that I've seen how the plants handled a truly hard freeze, I feel more confident about their ability to make it through an entire winter of such experiences. I'm not saying they haven't been set back by such bitter cold OR that they won't suffer further damage from future freezing temperatures. But what I've observed thus far is encouraging to me. It seems odd to say I'm encouraged when so much of what I see can be described in terms better suited to a foodie's blog: blackened, browned or fried! Nonetheless, I'm optimistic that I'll still have a beautiful garden when spring gets here. It won't be the same kind of beauty as that of previous springs but as a gardener who not only enjoys change but celebrates it, I say bring it on!

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Walking In A Winter Wonderland ...

A snow covered garden is definitely an unaccustomed sight on my corner of Katy ... so pardon my giddy rhapsodizing and enjoy a rarely seen view of the gardens here at Wit's End. The first and second videos were taken on Friday afternoon and are not my best work but hey, it's hard to focus the camera and keep it moving steadily and gracefully when you're in the throes of a snow-induced euphoria! The third video was taken early this morning and I was very happy to come inside and have a cup of hot coffee by the time I finished. By this afternoon, there was only one small patch of snow left on the ground but the plants were showing the effects of a true hard freeze. It's been so long since we had one that I'd forgotten just how much damage a real freeze could do. On a happy note, though, you'll hear me fretting on the 3rd video about the plants I'd set out into the garden on Thursday, and my fears that they had succumbed to the cold. Most of those had bounced back quite nicely by late afternoon today.

It was interesting to watch and read the meteorologists' explanations of how this storm developed. It truly is a "perfect storm" situation: more often than not, the cold dry air of an Arctic front arrives before or after moisture in the atmosphere's middle and upper levels does. On Friday morning, though, the Arctic air arrived in Houston in tandem with a low-pressure system in the middle and upper atmospheric levels, thus creating an unprecedentedly early snowfall. In fact, according to today's Houston Chronicle, Houston beats Chicago as far as seasonal snowfall this winter! It's pretty freaky that I've had more snow thus far than my friends Mr. McGregor's Daughter, Ramble on Rose and Prairie Rose but I have no illusions that I'll hold that distinction for long!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Three for Thursday: December 3, 2009

Today was one of those beautiful fall days on my corner of Katy, the kind that make all the miseries of summer seem like a bad dream. Blue skies, sunshine and 60something degrees all came together to make perfect gardening weather. So after my morning roar (2 cups of Lion Coffee, one of the many things that make Hawaii just about my favorite place in the world), and a visit with my friend Prince (Cavalier King Charles spaniel and just the sweetest little boy ever), I put on my gardening gloves and hit the back gardens. It didn't take me long to decide that what I really needed back there was bark mulch and compost ... so off came the gloves and away I trundled to Lowe's. Since it took them a few minutes to get the 5 bags of pine bark mulch and the 10 bags of compost onto the forklift, I used that time wisely and perused the plants on offer. I think I showed admirable restraint by only coming home with 2: a red Kalanchoe and a blush pink Kalanchoe. Then it was back home again to unload and spread 30 cubic feet of mulch and compost. Where was I putting it? Take a look at a picture from November 23rd.

The flagstones were left over from the paths and I asked the crew to put them there, thinking I'd use them in that spot. The more I looked at them, though, the less I liked them there. So I shifted them a few days ago, putting the largest ones off to one side and placing smaller pieces along the path between the planting areas. I lived with it for a bit and decided that would work, which is where the mulch and compost came into play. I used the mulch as an underlayer and then added compost on top of that to bring the level of the soil up. Here's how it looked after about 8 bags of material had been spread.

On the lower left side, you can see moss rocks that have formed an edging for the last couple of years (maybe less, maybe more ... I change things up pretty often, you know!). After spending a fair amount of time squinting and staring (thus requalifying for the title of OutStanding Gardener on this corner of Katy), I decided that edging should go. I took them out, tweaked the flagstones a bit and here's how it looked at the end of the day.

I'm back to this area being one big bed with stepping stones running through it so I can work in the beds. I'll need to add a few more stones here and there, and heaven only knows what other scathingly brilliant ideas will come to mind between now and the next time I post pictures!

In addition to all these activities, I planted a few of the various herbs and annuals I'd bought with my Bullfrog Bucks at Nelson Water Gardens. I scored some mighty fine plants, y'all: I've got three 2-gallon pots of Farfugium/Ligularia out front waiting to be planted. Boy howdy, are they purty. Earlier this week I planted the Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage, I bought; it went along the south fence. If there are any errant hummingbirds still in the area, they'll be happy to spot that! Bronze Fennel, Arp Rosemary, German & French Thyme, Chives, Cilantro, Creeping and upright Sweet Marjoram are nestled into the ground in their pots for now. I'll tell you why in half a tick. Several 'Cutie Pie' Violas are brightening the bed to the right of the gate from the driveway into the back. In the big dark green ceramic pot that sits behind a green Adirondack chair, I planted Dianthus, Alyssum, Cutie Pies and a Snapdragon. That pot needs more but I can pretty much guarantee that I won't be shopping for plants tomorrow. Brace yourselves to hear the reason why ...

(get ready, this is positively shocking coming from my corner of Katy ... shoot, it's shocking coming from my part of Texas ...)

Folks, we are forecast to get SNOW tomorrow. Yes, you read that right. Snow. Wintry precipitation falling from the sky and sticking to the ground, if the meteorologists are to be believed. We could even experience temperatures below freezing for 10-12 hours! I don't know whether to hie myself to the grocery store and stock up before the winter weather arrives, or take my chances on the forecasters' being wrong (they've been wrong before). IF they're right, and I can get outside to take some pictures, I'll share this momentous event with y'all. It won't look like much to those for whom this is a regular winter occurrence but believe me, it will be huge for us!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Seedy Truth About My Corner of Katy

All right, children, gather round, it's true confessions time. I feel that I must unburden myself of a secret compulsion ...

one that compacts my cabinets ...

clutters my closets ...

and shambles my shelves ...

and makes near incessant demands on my time and energies. And yet I am helpless in its grip for loathe as I am to admit it to such august company, I am she who is unable to resist the ineffable lure, the limitless potential, the seductive promise of future glory ...

Oh, screw it, I save seeds. Which means I also save bags and jars and bottles and envelopes and tubs and cartons and cylinders and whatever other containers I think might serve my cause. As you can see from the picture below, this year I pressed old sushi trays into service. Now if only I could remember what plant these seeds came from ... I always think I'll remember or that I'll be able to recognize the seeds without difficulty and so I skip that pesky little step of LABELING them.

Don't think I can't hear what you're thinking. "Well, gee, that doesn't look so bad." Let's take a closer look, shall we?
This is one side of the table ...

And this is the other. (There are a few more bags & jars in the garage, but I didn't feel like hauling them in to be photographed.)

Right about now I can hear you saying "hey, there's an awful lot of seed packets that obviously didn't come from your corner of Katy!" Well, damn skippy there are! Shoot, some of them are heirlooms, although not in the usual horticultural sense. The three packets below were my grandmother's; my mother found them amongst Grand's belongings after she died ... in 1978. The Burpee packet is Iceberg Candytuft (Iberis) and the two from Park Seeds are Chamomile and Curled Cress.

I also have packets dating back to 1998, when KringleBob bestowed upon more than 20 lucky gardeners the gift of 200 some packages of seeds. It's a long story ... suffice it to say for now that 2 East Coast members of my e-mail group, the GardenBobs, discovered a dumpster full of discarded seed packets. Diving for delphiniums ... what a Christmas treat that box was!

There are also some very special seeds, given to me by gardeners who are no longer with us and are saved because the handwriting on the labels is one of the few tangible memories I have of those dear friends.

And try as I might, I can't stop myself from buying more seeds. This is how gardeners gamble. We place a $2 bet, hoping to be rewarded with weeks or even months of glorious blooms. We can't help ourselves: we're sure that this is the season when every last seed will germinate and become a breathtaking vision of horticultural beauty. We're aided and abetted in our wagers by the purveyors of seed who seduce us with tantalizing descriptions and mesmerizing photographs.

By and large, though, it's seeds from the plants that grow here on my corner of Katy that I can't seem to stop saving. I cringe mightily at the thought of all the possibilities come to naught if I throw the spent seedheads in the trash. Some of them make their way into compost but way too many of them (at least I think so) still end up in the back of the big blue truck. I tell myself that perhaps somewhere in the landfill, an Echinacea or Gaillardia is brightening an otherwise dull horizon. It's a nice fantasy and it makes me smile.

Right now, though, if you'll excuse me? I have to go sort through all those seeds and clear the table before the Executive Producer sees it and starts fussing!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Head Gardener Speaks: Bloom Day, November 2009

She Who Must Be Obeyed sent me out yesterday to brave the hordes of hungry mosquitoes so we gardeners here at Wit's End could participate in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Blooms have we a-plenty but I fear the mosquito population exceeds that of the flowers. I have suggested that the Executive Producer and SWMBO consider investing in the stocks of companies that manufacture mosquito repellents and mosquito dunks so we can at least profit from our misery. A more practical alternative would be the installation of a bat house. Although weather forecasters are predicting a drop in temperatures today or tomorrow which we hope will discourage the pestilential beasts, a bit of Googling suggests that the temperatures must consistently fall below 60 degrees before mosquito feeding activity ceases. Our forecast low is 45 degrees tonight but tomorrow's high is 63 so we are prepared to be slapping and scratching for a while to come.

On to more felicitous subjects! Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, sponsored by Indianapolis gardener Carol of May Dreams Gardens, brings together garden bloggers from around the world on the 15th of each month to share the beauty to be found in their gardens. Here on our corner of Katy, many of the fall blooming perennials are putting on quite a show for us. One thing SWMBO and I have in common is our love for toad lilies. This stand of Tricyrtis is planted under the Persian Vitex and the original plants were a gift from our beloved friend Amy.

Another passalong plant from Amy's garden is what we think is a relative of Philippine Violet relative, a Barleria whose species we've been unable to determine. We saw it growing last year outside the main building of Enchanted Gardens, and since Amy was such a fan of the Enchanted nurseries, we're certain it has its origins with them. We've sent them an e-mail to ask if they know the species and will update this post if they have an answer for us. UPDATE: Denise Riccobono of Enchanted Gardens e-mailed me to say that although she's always heard it described as a Barleria, the botanical name is Hypoestes aristata. Like Barleria, it is a member of the Acanthaceae family. Perhaps the botanical name was changed along the way? Thanks to Denise for the information!

Passalong plants have a special place in our gardens and our hearts, reminding us of the friends and experiences that gardening has brought to us. This beautiful rose was given to us by Mike Kopetsky, an enthusiastic gardener and Rose Rustler. A rare white blooming sport of Mrs. B.R. Cant, this rose has really come into its own this year, most likely because SWMBO has allowed it to remain in the spot where it was originally planted 2-3 years ago. I count this as one of my successes in my ongoing efforts to persuade her that her plants should not be treated as though they have wheels (an expression coined by another gardening friend).

A brief update on the mosquito situation: unhappy with some of the images we shot yesterday evening, I ventured outside to reshoot a few of them. Although I saw several mosquitoes flitting about, not one of them made a landing on my usually irresistible skin. Be still my heart!

Although her penchant for rescuing plants from the clearance racks at Lowe's has often been followed by a trip to the compost bin, such was not the case with this unnamed Lantana. This is ONE plant ... it started life in a 4-1/2 inch pot but once planted, it hit the ground running. A second pot planted on the opposite corner (just visible in the lower right side of the picture) is performing equally well. The butterflies are as delighted with these plantings as we are!

Salvia leucantha also takes up a lot of space in a bed or border but it too more than earns its keep once it starts blooming.

Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra) is smothered in tiny pink blooms right now, some of which have already morphed into the small red fruits enjoyed by birds and wildlife.

Bleeding heart vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae 'Delectum) blooms in partial shade here at Wit's End. We can understand why some people find it too aggressive for their gardens, since it does sucker from the roots. If that gives you pause, perhaps it will help you decide for or against it if I tell you that I do not find it nearly as obnoxious in its suckering tendencies as Passion Vines. The vine in this picture is planted against a fence but was originally situated in a pot against the south-facing wall of the house. A sucker took root in the granite under the pot and survived separation from the mother plant. That offspring is thriving and still blooming despite being disturbed during the recent path laying project.

Mrs. Dudley Cross is planted in the rose bed on the back corner of Wit's End. She's not been the most prolific of bloomers for us and we're still not sure she'll be allowed to keep her spot. If she produces more blooms like this one, though, we'll consider it!

Souvenir de la Malmaison, however, we would never want to be without.

When Coral Woody Penta (Rondeletia leucophylla) finally bursts forth into bloom, we forgive her for making us wait so long.

We used some of our Bullfrog Bucks from Nelson's Water Gardens to buy some fall/winter annuals for this hayrack planter. Stock, 'Spooky' Dianthus, Sweet Alyssum, a Pansy and an Osteospermum should really take off soon and fill this planter with color and fragrance. We might throw some Earl Grey Larkspur seeds in there and see what happens.

It's not hard to understand how this Salvia earned the name Hot Lips.

Clerodendrum wallichii (aka Wallich's Glorybower, Nodding Clerodendron, Bridal Veil or Waterfall Clerodendron) has finally settled into a spot behind the pond and condescended to bloom for us. That's more of Amy's Barleria you see with it.

There are still quite a few summer annuals blooming here on our corner of Katy. We've left a few of the less manky zinnias since butterflies are still numerous and they do love these blooms.

SWMBO must have direct sowed 4 or 5 different kinds of cosmos in various areas of the garden. This plant is one of the two that came up. That's two plants, gentle readers. Had I been consulted before the scatterbrained scattering commenced, I feel certain there would be more!

Leon the armadillo is now wandering through the winecups, having just passed through a self-sown plant of Profusion Apricot zinnia.

Time is of the essence so I'll close this post with an image of one of MCOK's most prolific fall and winter bloomers: Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagetes lemonii) is just getting started. We didn't plan this combination of Blackie Sweet Potato vine and CCD but we're rather enamored of it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three for Thursday: November 12, 2009

I was headed inside this afternoon, thoroughly exhausted by another day of extreme gardening (and mosquito slapping), when I noticed that the orb weaver spider I'd seen earlier now had something beside her in her web. I thought at first it was an egg case but on closer examination, I saw that a hapless bug had ventured too close and gotten caught in her web. The spider was busily working to mummify the bug. Isn't the coloring on her legs extraordinary?

I watched in fascination as the bug literally revolved while she spun. It was eerie and creepy and absolutely enthralling. I'm not an arachnophobe but it did make me a little nervous to get as close to her as I did while shooting these pictures! I kept envisioning her scrambling onto my hand in her hurry to get away from me.

I finally got just a wee bit too close and startled her ... she scurried up the bloom stalk of a Salvia madrensis and made herself very small and inconspicuous. Is it just me, or does the way she's resting in this picture remind anyone else of a Thanksgiving turkey?

If only she'd eat mosquitoes!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Through the Garden Gate: Monday, November 9, 2009

Various forces have conspired to keep me from regularly posting a Monday look through the garden gate over the last couple of months. Today I dashed outside to capture the usual view, along with a view from the other garden gate and a lament thereupon.

The usual view is a bit less floriferous than it has been. Those with sharp eyes might notice that the rock edging has been rearranged (yes, AGAIN). Since I'd spent most of last week working in front, I set out to putter around for a bit in the back this morning and ended up spending several hours tending to one thing and another, including shifting rocks around.
Fall always puts me in the mood to make changes! I wonder what it will look like this time next year? Shoot, who am I kidding? It may look entirely different this time next week! I'm still not sure I like that rock border on the left and I really want to put flagstone stepping stones in that dirt path and plant around them. Oh, yeah, I want to take up the square pavers and put in flagstone there, too. Which would mean taking up the river rock as well.

Speaking of flagstone, since the crew was already here last week putting in the flagstone sidewalk, I decided to have them lay flagstone in the path along the south wall of the house. The path leads from the front gate to the bedroom patio, which you might remember had flagstone installed earlier this year. Here's the view from the front gate. They did a very nice job of sloping the path and working around the drainage system installed last week. (I decided AFTER they'd done the drainage that I wanted to go ahead and put flagstone there, too. I do that kind of thing way too often, according to the Head Gardener. She's right.)

And now for the lament. What's wrong with the picture below?

I doubt I need to spell it out, but I will. Yep, folks, the flagstone used for the patios doesn't match the flagstone used for the paths as it was supposed to. How no one caught on to this until the job was completed is an interesting thing to ponder. You'd think the crew would have noticed that the stones were markedly different colors and stopped work to ask their boss about it. Pedro was tied up on another job, though, and they didn't check with him. You'd think I would have noticed, too! All I can say is that on my one visit to see how it was going, I wondered about the color difference but passed it off as being due to granite dust covering the stones. Unusually for me, I didn't make frequent visits to the work site. They'd done such a splendid job on the front sidewalk that I was confident this would turn out well, too. And it did, save for the not so minor matter of the color difference.

Fortunately, my contractor is a reasonable guy and all it took was one look for him to agree that his crew had messed up and it was up to him to make it right. I ran by the stone yard today and picked out a pallet of stone that's in the same color range as the patio. Tomorrow morning the guys will be back and we'll start over. We're hoping that they can find a way to avoid having to re-do the whole path but I've reserved the right to object if I'm not happy with our efforts. I say our because I'll be paying closer attention to the process this time around. While they're working on the path tomorrow, I'll be out back planting fall annuals in one of the hayracks, continuing the never ending chore of weeding out unwanted spiderwort and reminding myself to deadhead them more diligently next season, and making frequent inspections of the stone laying process!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Big Changes on MCOK

I have such good intentions about keeping y'all informed of the happenings on my corner of Katy. Then we get a spell of glorious weather like the one this week and all those intentions fall by the wayside, replaced by my desire to spend every moment I can out in the garden. The fall weather here in my part of Texas is our reward for making it through the infernal summer heat and humidity. I claim that reward every chance I get!

We've been living in this house since 1997 and the front sidewalk has been one of the banes of my existence since the beginning. I don't know whose bright idea it was to build so many sidewalks out here with narrow beds running down the middle. It's probably a good thing I don't know because I'd harangue him/her mercilessly about the difficulties it's posed over the years. When we moved here, the bed was planted with a hedge of dwarf yaupons. Dwarf yaupons are great evergreen plants if you want something that's bulletproof in the Houston area, but suited to the middle of a sidewalk they are not. I yanked them out about 9 years ago and since then I've experimented with a variety of plants in that bed. Most of y'all know that I like a look of barely controlled chaos and that bed was no exception. This led to frequent complaints by the Executive Producer and occasional threats to decimate the plant population therein. It also led to a broken right foot for the Head Gardener when she attempted to step over the bed and landed wrong. Not her finest moment.

Certainly I could have done a better job of planting that bed and avoided some of the problems it caused. But that wouldn't have solved my other big issue with the sidewalk, its straight and uncompromising lines that couldn't be softened with plantings without further incensing the EP. I tried over the years ... in its most recent incarnation, the sidewalk was edged with large river rocks artfully (?!) arranged to soften the edges. That too caused some problems: that size of rock can be nudged or kicked loose all too easily. The concrete/pea gravel aggregate surface was also an issue, albeit a more minor one. What it all came down to was that it wasn't the sidewalk of my dreams. I longed for a flagstone path that meandered gently towards the front gates, a path that invited you to enjoy the garden as you walked towards the house. This week I finally got it. The path of my dreams has become a reality!

I'm only sorry I didn't get more pictures of the building process. I got sidetracked in the garden, working on pruning my red bauhinia and visiting with neighbors who stopped to chat. By the time I thought to come in for my camera again, they were almost done!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Last Friday morning, as I was working near the pond, I bumped my head on the Persian Vitex for about the umpteenth time. After the obligatory period of cussing and fussing, and wishing I'd planted it at least a few more inches back, I took a look at that area and had a brainstorm. If the bed were just 12-18 inches further out into the path, I'd be unable to walk into the trajectory of the offending branch. And that's when the lightning bolt hit: because this part of the path usually ends up flooding during heavy rains, it would make a great spot for a rain garden! Next thing the Head Gardener knew, I'd dragooned her into moving concrete pavers and river rock around to enlarge the bed.

Having attended a session on rain gardening at the Garden Writers' symposium in September, and taken a few hopefully cogent notes, I thought I'd share what I learned and tell you about how my process differed. I was really pleased that the speakers
, Helen Kraus and Anne Spafford, gave some definitions that helped me better understand the difference between wetlands, bogs and rain gardens. A wetland, they told us, has standing water and thus is wet all the time. In a bog, however, the soil stays saturated (so you don't see the water that's there). Dry soil conditions mean low moisture around the roots AND the crowns of the plants. A rain garden, according to the speakers/co-authors of RAIN GARDENING IN THE SOUTH, falls somewhere in between wetlands/bogs and dry conditions. In choosing plants for a rain garden, you're looking for plants that can tolerate not only short periods of flooding but also extended periods of drought. (The inconsistent moisture levels mean that edibles aren't well suited to rain gardens.) You want to site your rain garden not less than 10 feet from your house and choose a spot where you'll get the maximum catchment. You don't want water to stand in the area for over 3 days. Here in my part of Texas, I imagine mosquito dunks or mosquito bits would be necessary if water stands for longer than 24 hours.

The authors' process for making a rain bed starts with digging out the area for your rain garden. If you have clay soil, as I do, 3 inches deep is sufficient. Sandy soil should be dug out 6 inches. You berm up the soil on the low side of the rain garden and amend the bed area with compost. Strictly speaking, a rain garden should be near a downspout or have a swale leading from a downspout to the rain garden to channel the flow of water and
slow down the water velocity. Once you've directed the water flow from the downspout, you can plant and mulch. Then wait for rain!

My process was a little different. I'm not a real stickler for the rules, have y'all noticed? This rain garden is not near a downspout and I did nothing to direct the flow of water. The area behind the moss rocks in the picture above is the rain garden. The original path area was crushed granite. Weed problems led me to put a layer of river rock on top of the granite and embed 12 inch square concrete pavers in that rock. To make my rain garden, I pulled up about 6 to 8 concrete pavers and raked out a good portion of the river rocks. I moved the moss rock edging from just under the walking iris you see at the top of the picture and stacked it to make a new front edge.

The Head Gardener, prudent soul that she is, had cautioned me to make sure that the area beside the pond was graded properly. As she pointed out, we didn't want the soil from the rain garden washing into the pond. I assured her that I'd been careful in my arrangement of rocks and in my digging but I did a little judicious watering to test the drainage, as seen below. The Head Gardener allowed me to add the rest of the compost afterwards but said she'd reserve judgment on the quality of the construction until the next rainstorm. (More on that shortly.)

After filling the new bed area with compost, I planted some walking iris, Louisiana iris and a pitcher plant (Sarracenia 'Dana's Delight). I set my one gallon pots of Indian Pinks in the area to see how they handled the light conditions there over the next few days. I also set a small birdbath just under the abusive branch of the Persian Vitex to make sure I couldn't run into it!

After having spent several hours over the course of the weekend getting this accomplished, my next goal was to see what happened in an actual rainstorm and Mother Nature obliged me on Monday with a downpour. While it wasn't of the epic proportions experienced back in April, it was still a very impressive storm. The rain garden performed nicely: it was fairly soggy by the time I was able to get out there and take a look around 1 p.m. Monday.

None of the soil washed into the pond, however. In fact, the pond overflowed into the rain garden which seems serendipitous. The path still flooded but I was expecting it to do so; this was much too small an area to make a significant difference. In case you're wondering (because I would be) "then why do it at all?", I'm big on experimenting in the garden. I wanted to see whether it would work on a small scale and get a feel for the process. It's possible I'll do something of this sort on a larger scale out front in tandem with the new drainage being installed next month. The Executive Producer and I decided we needed to do something to prevent a repeat of the damage done by April's floods. Current plans call for gutters to be connected to a drain that will run under the path on the south side of the house (west of the area pictured), through a bed in the front and then out to the street. I'm hoping we can tweak the plans and install downspout diverters of some kind to channel the rain into the front gardens. The Head Gardener and I both really hate the thought of all that rain going out into the street and down the storm drains.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New York, New York, It's A Wonderful Town ...

Last November, the Executive Producer and I marked our 25th wedding anniversary and agreed that a trip to NYC would be just the thing to mark the occasion . What with one thing and another, though, it took us until a month before our 26th to celebrate that silver milestone! What a celebration it was ... despite inclement weather, we saw and did as much as we could over a long weekend.

OK, this is the part where I kick myself and y'all gasp in horror: I didn't bring my camera on the trip. In my defense, I wanted to focus on seeing the city through my own eyes rather than a camera lens (and I also didn't want to be weighed down by i). Of course I regret that decision now but I did take a few shots with the iPhone. The shot at the top is of us walking through Strawberry Fields, the memorial garden for John Lennon. Since this was our first visit to NYC, we took the Gray Line bus tours that give you an overview of the city. We chose to sit up on top of the double decker bus, which explains the ponchos we're wearing: it was raining, it was windy, it was cold and we enjoyed it immensely!

In deference to the Executive Producer, Strawberry Fields was the only garden we visited. He more than made up for the lack of garden time, though, by taking me to Flute Champagne Bar and treating me to several absolutely splendid glasses of bubbly. This after we'd been to the old Studio 54, which is now a theater, to see Carrie Fisher's one-woman show, Wishful Drinking ... appropriately enough. We wound up that evening at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain, where the food and the service were just fabulous. Our first night there, we dined at Craft, an experience which was spectacular from beginning to end, and proved that chef Tom Colicchio richly deserves his position as head judge of TV's Top Chef. We toured the Museum of Modern Art on Saturday morning and I did get to see my Monets: the water lilies triptych moved me to tears, as expected. On the recommendation of the maitre d' at Craft, we lunched at the MOMA Cafe ... an excellent choice. That evening we ate at Lattanzi Ristorante, a small Italian restaurant in Midtown recommended by Mr. McGregor's Daughter and her family. Molto bene! We visited the Carnegie Club afterwards for a Sinatra tribute show by New York singer Steven Maglio. (Since we see a fair number of musicals thanks to the touring companies that come through Houston, we agreed we didn't want to blow our budget on full price tickets to any of those, nor did we want to spend any portion of our limited time in line at the discount tickets booth. It was a good decision for us.)

A word re hotels: the EP originally booked us into The Pod Hotel on 51st Street in Midtown, since it fit our budget and location needs. While the Pod's decor is very hip, the room was about as close as you can get to miniscule without being in Europe. After one night on a hard and uncomfortable bed, I called the Marriott Courtyard I'd spotted the previous evening and discovered that for only $6 more per night, we could have a spacious and comfortable room AND bed! The EP isn't big on doing research so in future, I believe I'll take care of that part of things. I was glad that we spent one night there, though, if only because of the view from our window. When I looked out on Saturday morning, this charming rooftop garden was just below us. I added some highlights and fill light so you could see details.

Our final morning there, we ate breakfast at a local diner, which did not disappoint. (We both marveled at the fact that we had nothing but great meals our entire visit. It's not often you can say that.) The most disappointing thing about the entire trip, actually, was the fabulous weather on Monday, the day we left ... I wanted so badly to stay and spend the day walking around Greenwich Village or SoHo, ducking in and out of shops and restaurants, soaking in the beautiful fall day. It gives us a great reason to go back, though.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Head Gardener Speaks: Bloom Day, October 2009

She Who Must Be Obeyed has charged me with the task of writing the October Bloom Day post for our corner of Katy, since she is too sunk in despondency and despair to speak. She spent the morning moping in one of the green chairs out back, sipping coffee and muttering about the return of summer weather, the fickleness of Mother Nature, and the utter unfairness of it all. One would think I did not caution her last week that her wanton celebration of fall's arrival was unseemly and could only lead to heartbreak. I take no joy in being proven right (although SWMBO would doubtless claim otherwise). Another cool front arrives tonight, according to the forecasters, but SWMBO will be occupied with helping me pack for a long weekend in New York City so do not expect any rapturous video documentation of the front's arrival to be forthcoming.

On to happier topics: complain though she might about the weather, even SWMBO would admit that we have much to celebrate bloom-wise. Time constraints only permit me to show a few of those blooms, however. (I don't trust her to pack without me!) First up is the favorite fall perennial of us both: the charming Tricyrtis, aka Toad Lily. This little beauty is part of a passalong clump from our late friend Amy and we cherish them dearly.

Having finally convinced her that Clematis will bloom on our corner of Katy only if planted and then allowed to remain in the SAME SPOT henceforward, we are both delighted by the multiple blooms now appearing on one of the plants rescued from Lowe's 2 years ago. The tag has been lost or misplaced but I believe it to be Niobe. If anyone can confirm or dispute that identification, kindly let me know. I will do my best to ensure that it is properly tagged.

The Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage, are tempting bees and butterflies alike. We caught a Gulf Fritillary nectaring on the plant in the rose bed.

This Aster has been absolutely covered in lavender-blue blooms. I've spoken to SWMBO and believe she is in agreement with me: we need more fall-blooming asters here at Wit's End.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima, Pride of Barbados, is still small but packs a powerful punch of color.

I must admit to being greatly perplexed at first as to what is going on with the Abelmoschus. In the first picture, you see this member of the Mallow family attired in the rosy hue I expect of her.

This one, however, is a bloom of a different color. The first is in partial shade, the second in full sun. The soil conditions are similar, as are moisture levels. Interesting. I shall ponder it further.

Since neither SheWMBO or I planted this Cassia alata (Candlestick plant) in the front beds, we're still pondering how the seeds made it out there from the stash that was stored in the garage. She collected them in January from Amy's garden and left them in the potting closet. Perhaps birds are responsible. Or perhaps the Head Gardener is playing mind games with SWMBO. I'll never tell.